Passive-Aggressive: Explanation & Cure.

Via on Jan 21, 2014

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The first time I encountered the phrase passive-aggressive was during a break-up.

Feeling hurt, I was defensive and had no idea what the words meant, and all I knew is that it was an attack and a label. Fast forward a decade filled with a great deal of introspection and inquiry into psychology, self-discovery and personality, and I would have had to agree with her. I used to be passive-aggressive, still can be, and have learned what it is, how to identify it, and the cure.

Passive-aggressive is not having the courage to speak openly and directly.

As a highly sensitive person, I am aware of the impact of my words, actions and presence on others. Most especially the people closest to me. The last thing I want to do is hurt them, bring them discomfort or mess anything up. More so, I never wanted to be seen as anything other than human, divine, and loving. I do my best, and I believe the majority of humans also try their best.

I didn’t always have passive-aggressive traits. They grew within me because of life-events; being betrayed, being ridiculed, being treated as less than human and hurt at the deepest levels. On an instinctual level I learned that I had to hide myself. To be open-hearted, expressive and intimate would only allow myself to be hurt, demeaned and abandoned.

It took years for me to recognize my fears, the causes for them, and how to live with and move past them.

Most passive-aggressive people tend to have deep wounds, either from childhood or traumatic experiences in life.

The tendency to be fearful is a natural result of trauma. Nobody wants to be hurt the first time, let alone again.

And when facing environments, scenarios, emotions or people that trigger past events, an instinctive defensive response arises. The instinctive response happens without thought, and precedes emotion. It is often invisible, cannot be recognized, and rests hidden deep within the subconscious. The emotions that arise are often not acknowledged, and don’t want to be lived. Fear takes precedence and the self becomes hidden from not only the other person, but more importantly to one’s own self. Often times the fear isn’t even recognized as fear.

This happens quickly, and is not a thought out, deliberate or intentional response.

Passive-aggressive tendencies arise from fear.

The fear arises for a few reasons. It arises from not wanting to hurt the other person, or saying something that would bring negative results in one’s own life.

Most commonly the fear arises because of not wanting to trigger a response in the other person that would cause them to hurt us.

It is an instinctual, animal level fear that slips beneath conscious awareness.

This is what makes passive-aggressiveness maladaptive. Maladaptive is a behavior that has the opposite result of what is intended. Rather than keeping the peace, passive-aggressive tendencies drive the other person away because there is no foundation for truth. And without a solid base for communication, in the absence of security and trust, there is no chance for relationship.

Fear manifests the unwanted desire through sheer emotional power.

Then the harm that one is trying to avoid becomes real. And the responses one was hoping to avoid in the other arise.

Every person is passive-aggressive to some degree.

I’ve yet to meet a person who does not have this defensive trait. To understand and work with passive-aggressiveness in another person requires a depth of personal truth and security within. It means facing fears, and learning to express and live one’s own authentic self. When knowing how to heal oneself, the sensitivity for recognizing and healing others through non-doing and simple presence becomes available.

The first step to healing passive-aggressiveness is awareness within.

The cure is to be oneself, and to speak internal truth with integrity, regardless.

A person who is passive-aggressive is simply being defensive. To expect somebody to be other than as they are is harmful, and only creates more resistance.

It is frightening to present oneself. In doing so, one becomes vulnerable to unwanted reactions, criticisms, judgments and all manners of imagined and real harms.

Speaking personal truth and owning one’s words, spirits and their consequences requires a great deal of courage. Finding the strength to speak openly gives emotional liberty that can be grounding, and very warming.

The cure to heal the other is to first heal oneself and to live the example.

Expressing with sensitivity the personal, individual spirit shows a person who lives in fear how to express and be open without fear. But to take action to try and change the other person is to see them as broken, and needing ‘fixed.’ Nobody wants to feel or be treated as broken. Instead, see the person through eyes of love and see the parts of them that are already whole and courageous.

Verbally appreciate with sincere gratitude the authentic spirit when it presents itself.

To communicate with a passive-aggressive individual can be frustrating.

It is easy to feel off-balanced with somebody who isn’t speaking authentically. The ability to sense that a person is incomplete with their words and not fully sharing their emotions, or speaking the entire truth, is a natural talent. Especially when knowing somebody intimately.

It can be easy to feel that the other is not being forthcoming. This does not mean that the other is being a liar, their defensiveness reveals a personal boundary that must be respected. In respecting the boundary, and being secure with oneself, the chance for healing presents itself.

To judge the person, to throw labels at them and to abandon them only reveals one’s own judgmental nature, critical mind and unloving traits.

In other words, when you recognize that a person is being passive-aggressive or defensive, to point that out or to label them as passive-aggressive will do no good, it will only cause them to retreat further and become more defensive.

Being around a person who is passive-aggressive will raise every trait of insecurity in the people around them. Self-knowledge and adherence to personal truth is that much more essential around a passive-aggressive individual, because the passive-aggressive person will undermine one’s very perspective and relationship to reality. This is why it is essential to first own and work through one’s own passive-aggressive tendencies. Without a solid personal base, the insecure person who is around passive-aggressiveness will disintegrate emotionally.

Living with passive-aggressiveness takes patience.

The passive-aggressive individual is not a bad person, they are simply a person who has been deeply hurt.

And when such a person is a family member, friend, or intimate partner, the only way to stay present is with expansive love. Pushing such a person to be honest or direct does not work because they cannot see past their own fear and hurt. Space and time are essential for healing. Even more so, trusting that person and seeing the best in them can alleviate the fear and reassure them that they are trusted, held with love, and embraced with security.

Personal responsibility and living one’s own truth sets an example for others to live and embrace their own nature.

Living and treating oneself with love, sensitivity and awareness gives strength, spaciousness and resources for allowing others to be as they are.

Love remains the cure. First from within, then to without.

 

Relephant:

Passive-Aggressive (Buddhist) Note.

How we should act:

Seven Reasons to Unfriend someone on Facebook.

Love elephant and want to go steady?

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Editor: Cat Beekmans

Photo: someecards

About Keith Artisan

Keith Artisan believes each human is innately good and imbued with talent. Believing that life is a mystery, he feels it is his life purpose to inspire people to believe in themselves and live their truth. Living what he believes, Keith actively serves his community as an entrepreneur, artist, yoga instructor, musician, writer, and mentor. He is online at Facebook and his website, Living Artisan .

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Comments

45 Responses to “Passive-Aggressive: Explanation & Cure.”

  1. Lailee says:

    Wow! Awesome ideas and fantastic advice on a very difficult subject to articulate so clearly.

  2. robb says:

    my bf calls me passive aggressive all the time when I say things that he calls digs, I do this because when I just come straight out and say what I am feeling he gets pissed so I just beat around the bush so he gets the hint I am mad without me just coming out and saying hey you are being a ass its a lose lose situation

  3. Grace K says:

    This is an insightful, informative, compassionate article about an issue than can be difficult and painful. I appreciate the deep understanding and compassion that is shown in discussing this topic. Thank you.

  4. Viv says:

    I have also experienced a more sinister side to passive-aggressiveness. It is also exercised by people who do nasty things like using others to their own benefit without any care for the other's feelings or any nasty consequences for the other , and then want to avoid building up "emotional debt" by failing to own up to their act. In other words, they want to and and often do eat their cake and keep it – at someone else's expense.

  5. Ross O. says:

    Keith, I felt uncomfortable while reading this. That is usually a good sign that I am learning something. Pain is surfacing. Thank you for sharing your beautiful insights with so much compassion.

  6. Henry Clarence says:

    Very insightful, and clearly stated. Reading it was a learning experience.

  7. Heather says:

    Completely disagree. I have known some passive aggressives who do it very deliberately to mislead, confuse and misappropriate blame to deflect from their own less-than-altruistic motives. It can be used maliciously, and is not always a product of hurt, and most certainly, not all passive aggressives don't want to hurt. For some, it's the most powerful weapon in their armoury. My father was a prime example of this,, so I've been trained by the best! That's why I'm almost painfully transparent in my relationships. I know how much hurt and confusion, and questioning of yourself dealing with a passive aggressive can produce. It's basically cowardice.

  8. Tanya says:

    I disagree VERY strongly with most of the content of this article. It took me years to discover that my spouse was passive aggressive. During that time I loved him unconditionally, and his abuse only worsened. The more I gave, the more he would take away. Love is not always the answer. Most people who exhibit malicious passive-aggressive behavior also tend to have a selfish and entitled personality. It was only after I confronted him that the behavior began to change.

    You stated "In other words, when you recognize that a person is being passive-aggressive or defensive, to point that out or to label them as passive-aggressive will do no good, it will only cause them to retreat further and become more defensive.".

    Pointing it out to him was the only thing that saved our relationship. He is now seeking counseling to help determine the cause of his behavior and solutions for the future. Passive aggression is a form of mental abuse and can be damaging to the person of which it is aimed. I think that your article offers some VERY bad advice that could lead to people enduring mentally abusive relationships while blaming themselves for not "loving" enough or being "patient" enough.

  9. Guest says:

    As a mental health provider, I will completely disagree with this summation. Your description & suggestions are exactly what one should not do and is exactly opposite of what passive-aggressive behavior is. Passive-aggressive is not about feeling hurt. To believe that is simply feeding into the passive-aggressive frenzy. Being hurt and defensive are very different from passive-aggressive behaviors. Being hurt and defensive are generally short term emotions that are usually resolved with simply communication and understanding between people.

    Passive-aggressive behavior is based on an unwillingness to deal with anger and projecting that anger onto another person with the intent of pissing that person off or hurting that person. It is expressions of hostility toward a person in order to sabotage a situation regardless of whether the outcome will be hurtful to or counter-productive for the passive-aggressive behavior. It is based on a 'win at all costs' attitude in that the passive-aggressive person has no regard as to who gets hurt along the way, or how much it will ultimately cost him/her in the end.

    Passive aggressive behavior is a classified mental illness outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) revision IV which describes passive-aggressive personality disorder as a "pervasive pattern of negativistic attitudes and passive resistance to demands for adequate performance in social and occupational situations".

    The causes are widespread based on a pattern of maladaptive coping and an inability to not want to deal with anger. While some degree of the passive-aggressive behaviors may be learned as a result of childhood repression or abuse, that would not be typical. The root of passive-aggressive behaviors is planted in one's intense need for control, misdirected competition, guilt over behaviors the passive-aggressive person is not proud of and an inability to be individually responsible for the consequences of one's own actions that may not have resulted in an outcome the passive-aggressive person expected. Very often the passive-aggressive person cannot admit he/she caused his/her own misery by overly estimating his/her own value. They very often will stand up to an authority figure such as a police officer or judge believing they are going to control the situation and have his/her demands met by the authority figure. The inability to analyze situations accurately with the possible consequences & rewards is typical. Blaming others, justifying one's actions as if one is a martyr and protecting other is common. An inability to cope with uncomfortable emotions when not getting what the passive-aggressive person wants is often displayed as anger. Attacking people at the very core of who they are is common. The passive-aggressive person cannot see another's situation, lacks empathy, uses anger to gain power, believing that as long as the passive-aggressive person wins and gets what he wants he is confident. The passive-aggressive person will describe a situation as if he/she is the victim; and can have an explosive temper when all things are falling apart. Important to make note is that the passive-aggressive person very often presents as the nicest person around, calm and well in control of him/herself. He/she can be very nice, soft spoken and endearing when he/she needs to be. He/She will even build a personal resume to paint a picture of him/herself as being a model citizen who should be revered & honored, such as volunteering for a take-notice organization such as delivering food to disabled veterans. The passive-aggressive person has such poor ego strength that it is virtually impossible to have any degree of healthy relationship with him/her.

    The silent treatment is an easy example of being passive-aggressive; as is agreeing with a plan and then changing it at a whim when he/she is left alone. This behavior is seen often in divorce situations. The passive-aggressive parent who has the kids for a visit can & will return the kids whenever he/she feels like it if he/she believes the other party or the courts will do little to prevent it. He/she follows the ‘possession is 9/10th of the law’ philosophy. If the passive-aggressive parent feels he is getting even an hour less than the other parent, he will decide himself without any communication to not return the kids on the previously agreed upon time. Dealing with the passive-aggressive ex-spouse is impossible. Simply try to be even keeled and direct. Have alternative plans & don’t make plan until the kids are actually brought home.

    In other situations, dealing with passive-aggressive people can be challenging, but workable if you have patience. Keep firm boundaries. Empathize without enabling or feeding into the passive-aggressive frenzy. Be direct about what you expect, especially if you have a written agreement. Put things in writing whenever possible. Do not put all your eggs in one basket if depending on the passive-aggressive person to do something with whom you really depend on follow through. Have a back-up plan or spread the duties around to different people so that if the passive-aggressive person does not show up & does not call you, you aren’t left holding an empty bag.

  10. Pam says:

    So happy to find this in my fb feed tonight. I was truly in need of this perspective. THANK YOU!!!

  11. Sad says:

    I felt in a hurry about a daily painful dose of passive-aggressive behavior of a person I devoted my life. I found this and I end infinitely more sad and confronting the painful reality that the passive-aggressive attitude remains taken lightly, and it does not matter that the person does not want help, I'm liable to do something so that everything goes well. While they are human and suffer the disorder, I have to find a way to ignore my emotions and make passive-aggressive does not feel uncomfortable.

  12. Someone says:

    Following a spiritual awakening, I was fiercely determined to overcome my inner fears and become the happy, radiant, loving woman that would infuse freshness and life into my marriage. Unfortunately my husband who is passive-aggressive/avoidant started acting out more and more. He told me that he can only be happy if I'm happy. I completely believe it. I went for intensive therapy and worked on my early childhood trauma and stuff like that. I don't regret doing that painful work. It only worked to resolve the ghosts from my past and I'm very grateful for that. However, my key objective which was to make our marriage a happy, loving, trusting one did not come to fruition. I tried my very best. I can honestly say I have never tried so hard on anything else and I'm a hard worker! Every single day for three years I was 'present', 'allowing uncomfortable emotions' and refrained from finger pointing. I poured love and affection into him even when his response was lukewarm at the best. I must admit that in a couple of instances when I truly transcended the ego briefly, life with my husband was simply heaven. However, we live in the real world and the real underlying egoistic issues catch up. I couldn't stay transcendent forever. But I tried. He started binge drinking, staying out until 6 in the morning and getting angry that I was upset. So I stopped even being upset at that. Then he became sorrier and sorrier but his behaviour never became better. I stayed true to my devotion to him and our marriage because I firmly believed he was my soulmate and that we were brought together to help each other overcome our personal demons. Unfortunately, all of that resulted in him finally telling me he wants an open marriage. I refused. He then moved out. He says he has come to a realization that he's a free spirit and wants to be with as many people as possible but not really going into an emotional depth with one person in particular. He doesn't think that's necessary. I'm not saying I'm an angel but MAN I TRIED. I also exhibited these PA traits when we first got married but I did work on every single issue. I knew that if I could be content and honest with myself, then I will not be triggered by him. It seems though that my selflessness and determination to be devoted did trigger HIM – triggered him into ending our marriage.

  13. louielouI says:

    I do not have a PHD in Psychology but have an advanced degree in life experience as it pertains to emotional abuse. First I agree with several other commenters in that "Passive aggressive" behavior is emotional abuse and should not be avoided and stuffed under the rug and encased in "love" and "patience" and other enabling and avoidance behaviors. All though I read some well thought out and even enlightened thoughts about this subject in this article, I have to say that the core message is a uneducated and dangerous one. Passive aggressive behavior, especially when focused on one person such as a significant other or one child, can be emotional terrorism. As the target of said behavior for 10 years I can honestly say that it sucked the life out of me, stole my truth from me, eroded my self definition and left me an unreconizable lump of cowering flesh. I went from a vibrant, outgoing, interactive person to someone who couldn't make eye contact. I barely got out of that relationship alive. I have spent the last 15 years of my life as a student of human behavior, family dynamics, the abuse cycle and anything else to do with dysfunctional behavior. I have spent years eating breathing and sleeping recovery which consisted of ongoing intensive therapy, support groups, study groups, intensive workshops, reading everything I could get my hands on and anything else you can imagine. Passive aggressive behavior, which in my opinion is a catch all phrase, can masquerade in many tactical forms and can be quite deliberate, "Bait and switch" and "gas lighting" are 2 examples. I agree that one should strive to be centered in love BUT most often people who are in the scapegoat position in a passive aggressive, manipulative and controlling relationship are unable to do so because of being beaten down, brain washed and because of their own fear. I agree with your statement about fear but fear seems to be at the core of all human discord and dysfunction. We are inundated with fear constantly in our society. Yes fear and pain are often the root of bad behavior and although that helps me to have compassion it does not mean I, or anyone else, have to accept unacceptable behavior. The best advice to people who are in the malicious cycle of a passive aggressive and manipulative relationship is to get professional help and to learn how to take care of themselves by finding their truth, their voice, setting boundaries or even getting out. It is true that we teach people how to treat us but only by setting boundaries, speaking the authentic truth in a firm but compassionate and sincere manner. Not better than or less than. You have to believe it to receive it.

    In response to a couple comments here: If you are in a relationship that is not safe for you to speak your truth or express your feelings and you resort to passive aggressive digs then you have a problem. This is not a healthy, functional relationship. Everyone on this planet deserves to be heard, to be respected and treated with positive regard. Feelings are not wrong it's what we make them mean and what we do with them that can become a problem. If you are unable to shift the balance or change the dynamic on your own please seek counseling.

    Today, I speak my truth. I will look you straight in the eye and calmly say "you must be in a lot of pain because that behavior was really passive aggressive. Is there something you need to communicate to me in a more productive way?" We teach people how to treat us. I WILL NOT sugar coat, throw the wool over or tolerate abuse in any way shape or form.

    I do appreciate your bringing awareness to this subject. I can see that you have good intentions and are introspective and most likely did not fall onto the extreme side of the passive aggressive spectrum that I speak of but Please be careful about dispensing advise about abuse. People actually die everyday at the hands of a passive aggressive, manipulative, controlling and abusive person or they end their own life.

    Knowledge is power….

    The truth will set you free….

  14. Amy says:

    Not everyone who is passive aggressive is so because of being hurt or trying no to hurt someone else. For some people it is a way of life, a behavior that is learned from one generation to the next even. I have found this to be especially true in the south as a twisted byproduct of the “southern belle” attitude. The idea that a Lady mustn’t be rude has mutated into full fledged passive aggressive behavior at it finest. And let’s not forget there are people who get off on conflict & are passive aggressive as a way to antagonize others.

  15. Stephanie says:

    Yes, this is exactly, precisely it. So true!!! Thank you for sharing something from the heart, hard-won and personal. I needed exactly this right now regarding someone in my life, so thank you! I can now more readily treat them with loving kindness rather than tit for tat as passive-aggressiveness sometimes drives me to do. I can be better than that.

  16. Stephanie says:

    It should be added that if you can NOT escape a seriously negative, or especially, an abusive situation, passive-aggressiveness behavior can be a good strategy. This is especially true if angering or entering into conflict with the abuser might be emotionally or physically dangerous. Foot-dragging is a way to passively resist, fight back, and have some control over the situation without direct defiance. This why this behavior developed as a useful defense. Sometimes you can’t escape. We all have the right to protect ourselves. That behavior is nicer than what a predatory abuser is doing.

    The key is not to use it indiscriminately on everyone.

  17. Rebecca says:

    I think the author had really good intentions writing this article. However I have agree with most of the commenters that this is potently dangerouse advice. The author has no education or credentials to be handing out advice. The article left me confused and uneasy about the information, gut instinct that further reading on my end is needed to come to an understanding. I read the comments and learned so much from one comment then the whole article! It’s articles like this one that stops me from contributing to the financial support of the journalists. I think an article about his experience and his journey to heal would be great and wonderful to read, but not to offer advice that can further damage the emotional health of the other people.

  18. thezarre says:

    I agree with many who feel some PA's have a more sinister side . Rather than face their responsibilities and obligations and grow up like the rest of us have to……rather than "speak their truth" out loud that they are basically selfish-self serving assholes and then get the negative feedback from society around them, they would prefer to make those who have to count on them look like the perpetually dissatisfied assholes and paint themselves as poor, misunderstood "unluckies".
    My ex was pathologically PA and, I suspect, so was his father. I was able to get away from him when my son was 4 and 1/2 but my son is now passive aggressive. He was out of control as a child when his father was around and it took several years to calm him down. He's also ADD (also associated with anger issues) and I suspect his father was dyslexic. I suspect there is a hereditary, biological component to this in some people. I also suspect that, if my son doesn't get a handle on this dysfunctional behavior it will only beget more and more of the same until he is as out of control as his father was(is).

  19. thezarre says:

    I'd also like to say that, as a single mother of a PA son, I am sick of getting blamed by the generally accepted concept that PA's are created by over controlling, overly critical parents who didn't allow them to express their feelings. I have two children. The other is female and is polar opposite of her brother. My son was constantly pushing boundaries and had me jumping through hoops since the day he was born. His "terrible twos" and threes meltdowns were huge and he always had difficulty controlling his emotions. Even when strict boundaries were set (you could NEVER leave any room for gray area with him) he would still find a way to do what he wanted….and if consequences were doled out for a very clear breach of boundary he always acted like I had no right to punish him. I think PA's START with anger issues, out of control emotions and rebellion against authority and "over controlling" and "highly critical" parents are created through the process over time out of frustration and having to jump through hoops and set these absolute, concrete boundaries or else. I basically think that the entire psych industry has this concept backwards. A parent HAS to have SOME control and authority in order to protect the child from his own lack of experience. Ie: "You are not allowed to play in the street". A child who does not obey, who resists that direction is in danger of getting run over. If you are an empathic parent, such as myself, you start by having to explain in detail all of the "why's" of every rule, hoping understanding will create compliance…which gets amazingly tiresome over time….and then they break them anyway. My son was fearless in practical life and would have sustained many possibly life threatening injuries as he did not appear to have a basic survival instinct. Yet he DID have a lot of fears of unseen things….nightmares, dark etc. Any time he was grounded or punished, instead of accepting his punishment and learning his lessons, he would simply assume I was his enemy. It's been a power struggle with him from the very beginning. I do believe though, that his PA father undermined my authority at every turn, Ie: "Don't tell Mom I let you have everything you want behind her back" like a huge candy bar right before dinner or something. If this is not inherited, he DID this to his son in the first, formative 4 years of his life. BTW…his father suffer a traumatic brain injury a couple of years after I left. Someone shot him in the head because of HIS poor decision making skills. His father was also a drug addict at one time but then switched to being a sex addict. Anyway, when he came out of the coma, 100% blind in both eyes, he refused to work with therapy on how to live life as a blind person and they had to discontinue therapy because of lack of progress and kicked him out of the hospital. That's so uber PA that you cannot even take care of yourself because your kneejerk reaction to NEVER do what someone expects, even someone who is trying to help you. I have worked as an Occupational Therapist for 13 years now and, out of over 1,000 patients, have only had 3 patients that were that PA. They have you jumping through hoops, entertaining them, encouraging them, begging them but the end result is, when it comes down to actually doing the work, they just don't. They usually stay on therapy about 3 months, making ju-u-u-ust enough progress each month (usually right before you eval them for D/C or continuation) to stay on therapy but you eventually end up having to D/C them due to lack of progress. Then they go to another rehab and tell the therapists there that their last therapist never did anything to help them. And , if you back them into a "shit or get off the pot" corner……today is now or never…. right now, THIS moment you HAVE to try. They shut down totally. There's no winning, there's no helping them. If I have a PA patient and recognize the patterns (usually after about 3 sessions or so plus comments from the other therapists) I will usually pass them along to someone else. Most people aren't as versed in PA's as I am and I just can't deal with them anymore. I did my 5 years in hell. I have absolutely no desire to waste my energy and skills on the games they play when there are plenty of people out there who need and appreciate what I do. My son's father nearly drove me crazy and I am so sad for my son but have no real tools to help him because all I get from the psych community is, it's all my fault….and I highly resent that! And I am so sad for my son and what his future holds. I want REAL answers.

  20. savoy6 says:

    as the opinions of mental health folks here show….this article is filled with incorrect info…actually, after reading it several times…, it looks like it was written by a PA person to get others to just "understand" their behavior and give them a pass on it..

  21. Bob says:

    Great article. This gives us passive aggressively who wish to change real hope. Thank you!

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